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What Gen Z Actually Do Online

College psychologists Ms Alex McCredie, Mr Greg Cameron and Ms Tessa Prior

College psychologists, L to R: Ms Alex McCredie, Mr Greg Cameron and Ms Tessa Prior

Young people’s online habits can sometimes seem like a mystery to anyone that isn’t a young person. These habits have become exacerbated since lockdown, prompting a lot of conversations about what is a healthy amount of screen time, and what is concerning. 

A recent study published by Year13 YouthSense has looked into how young people use the Internet, and how much time in their day is dedicated to this. I hope this article helps to normalise some of your son’s online habits, and give you some guidance into what would be considered ‘average’ use. This study is based on 1,232 responses from across Australia. 

As adults, we grew up in the age of TVs, running to do our chores or go to the bathroom in the ad breaks, so as not to miss a moment of a show. Young people today are growing up in a very different world; regular TV is hardly on the radar for Gen Zs. The Internet is playing a huge role in our young people’s lives, and getting them ‘off it’ is not the answer. To help the young people in our lives, it is important we understand what is considered ‘normal’ and encourage boundaries, based on this information. 


Based on this 2021 study, 71% of young people are using their phone as their preferred device, with laptops at 18% (desktop 7% and tablet 4%). The average screen time per day is five hours, meaning they are spending close to a third of their waking lives on their phones, with only 13% of respondents having one to two hours a day. It’s important to note that these five hours are not screen time during their school day, this is in addition to their use of laptops at school. 

When it comes to what young people are doing, around 37% said they were on Social Media (Instagram, TikTok etc) for three plus hours a day, while 42% said they were using Social Media one to two hours a day. If we compare this data with websites, only 8% were using websites three plus hours a day.

In addition to Social Media usage, streaming videos on YouTube and shows on Netflix etc had very similar results, with almost half streaming between one to three plus hours each day. 

When it comes to online gaming, the data shows differently. 75% of males reported that they game weekly, compared to 43% of females. However only 12% of respondents reported they play games for three plus hours a day. 

Gen z and mobiles

The term ‘addicted’ is thrown around a lot when it comes to young people and technology use. And maybe for good reason. The need for this engagement does appear as an addiction, which further emphasises the importance of boundaries and strong expectations.

Adolescence is a time of rapid brain development and changes. The everyday patterns of behaviour they engage in now, is setting a precedent for their later years. The more education and structure they are provided around screen time, the higher chance they will incorporate this into their lives as young adults.

The study mentioned above, showed that 48% of young people felt they were addicted to Social Media, with one 18-year-old stating “people are too addicted to their phones. To the point where it’s weird if you’re not addicted”.

If you are setting boundaries around screen time, do this WITH your son

If you are setting boundaries around screen time, do this WITH your son

The online usage for young people is something everyone has an opinion on; maybe you feel it’s bad having adolescents exposed to so much, so young. Or perhaps you think it’s an empowering tool, that they are able to create a platform and understand more about the world, in a way that we as adults didn’t at their age. No matter what side of the fence you sit on, remember that our young people today are informed, and connected. Therefore, if you are setting boundaries around screen time, or limiting certain content/Social Media platforms, I would encourage you to do this with your son.

Ask him, what does he think is fair? Get an understanding of his current use. Is he using public or private accounts? Does he think his mental health is being impacted? Creating a shared agreement or goal around screen time is an empowering and validating way to work as a team, in order to get the best outcome. 

>>> Click here if you would like to read more on the Year13 YouthSense Gen Z report and its findings.


Ms Tessa Prior

School Psychologist